By Nora O. Lozano
La versión en español está disponible aquí.
This coming Monday, Nov. 2, Baptist sisters worldwide will be observing the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer. This year marks the 65th anniversary of this observance, and women will reflect on the topic “Arise and Shine” based on Isaiah 60:1.
This year’s program represents a call to reflect, pray and give. Prayer concerns come from the different continental unions, and involve diverse needs: spiritual strength, hope, physical health, political stability, safety, financial welfare and various social and justice issues.
I can imagine my Baptist sisters around the world praying in formal settings such as churches, as well as in informal places like homes, plazas, by the river or under a tree. They will be drinking coffee, tea, chia or other native drinks. I wish I could take a quick flight around the world to visit as many as these prayer meetings as possible.
I have known about this prayer day since I was a little girl. My mother used to host prayer meetings at home where her church friends prayed for a whole afternoon and then enjoyed coffee and pastries. As I get older, this day has become for me not only a day to pray with and for Baptist women worldwide, but also one to remember and be thankful for important women in my life.
Recently, as I shared my leadership journey at the Latina Leadership training in Monterrey, Mexico, I had the opportunity to reflect and give thanks for one of these significant women: Hortencia (Tencha) Morales. I am a product of the Girls Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) and Acteens. In fact, I am a proud Queen Regent (the ones who are familiar with these organizations know this title’s significance). Sometimes I think that it would be nice to list this title with other important ones. However, I realize that some people, unknowledgeable of these rankings, will think that I lost my mind if they see my official signature as Nora O. Lozano, Ph.D., D.D., Queen Regent.
Hortencia Morales was the GA counselor/leader, and the one who inspired me to do my GA steps. But she was much more than that; she was a true role model and mentor. When she arrived in my church she was in her late 20s or early 30s. She was the first woman in ministry that I came in close contact with. This was approximately 40 years ago, and now I recognize that it was quite remarkable that she was able to land a paid ministerial position right after seminary.
For the next 10 years she also became my pastor. Years later I realized that during her tenure in my church, I did not have any significant relationship with any of the male pastors because I did not need to, she was my pastor. Of course, I would have never thought of calling her pastor; her real title was missionary. Ordination or the pastor’s title was unimaginable for her due to her gender.
As a missionary, she was assigned to work with girls and young women, and to be a church planter. She did all of her assignments with grace, joy, love and excellence. Also, it was clear to me that the church planting ministry was quite challenging for her, her support team and the new church.
The church’s leadership would identify a site, and then she would start by knocking on doors in order to find a family who were willing to host a Bible study. After some time, the group would grow, and eventually it would be ready to be organized as a church. Once the group reached this level of ecclesial maturity, she would be removed, and a male pastor would take her place. This forced separation was painful for both the group and her. Then, she would be assigned to another site, and the process would start again. I know about this because I witnessed this process. I used to help in these church planting efforts.
The whole process involved hard work and mixed feelings. At that time, I could not verbalize these feelings, but now I see them clearly. Not surprisingly, I was terrified when I sensed a call to ministry. The only options that I knew for women were being a missionary or a pastor’s wife. Thankfully, wise advisors suggested that my first calling was to study and that in time God would clarify my call/mission. And God did.
Eventually, patriarchal views took over the church’s leadership, and Tencha went to serve in another church and town. Soon after, and for similar reasons, I left that church, too. We maintained contact throughout the years until she died of cancer in her early 50s.
With the years, my appreciation for Tencha’s presence and ministry keeps increasing. She guided me through difficult circumstances and fought gender related battles on my behalf. She challenged people who would question my leadership abilities as a woman, and helped them to see beyond the traditional roles for men and women. She died too young, leaving an immense void in the lives of many, both women and men. Had she lived longer, I think she would have been proud of the woman and minister that I have become.
The classic movie Places in the Heart ends with a powerful scene where Edna, the main character, is in a church service, together with significant people in her life, living and deceased. As the title of the movie suggests, this meaningful gathering is happening only in the heart. As I prepare every year for the Women’s Day of Prayer, I feel that something similar happens in my heart as I remember the many Baptist women who have been central in my life. Some are still here, and others have gone to be with God, but in my heart they are all present. In my personal Hebrews 11 (the biblical faith’s hall of fame), they have a very special place. Together they helped me to become the woman who I am today, and for this I will be forever thankful.
So this coming Monday, I will pray for the program’s prayer concerns and I will give thanks for the important women in my life. In addition, I will pray that young people, men and women, may find their own Tencha Morales and be blessed as I was. Finally, I will pray that the ones of us who are the adults now may have the sensitivity and willingness to be a Tencha Morales for the younger generation. Amen!